Working in a shop that has a cnc machine, it never ceases to amaze me how much 1 tool can revolutionize how scenery is built. As always labor costs more than materials. While the bulk pricing that we receive makes lumber even more reasonable. It is really the labor savings that using cnc made pieces worth it. Even factoring in the time to draft (which is increased in a cnc environment), being able to cut all Applicable pieces of a scenic unit which then only have to be assembled can be amazing. The cnc machine allows us to easily do complex shapes and objects easily. What gets me though is that having the machine goes much deeper into altering traditional scene shop methods. Doing plywood sweeps for stud-walls instead of individual legs, building boxes out of ply for small units, are some of the ways. Plus, the cnc can easily cut slots so that pieces can mate together simplifying construction and support. A project I did for an event on TV had a curved bench. All of the pieces were cut on the cnc to interlock. The stool was solid as a rock even when dry-fit without glue or fasteners.
I really have to wonder what the effects would be on theatre if the availability of cnc machines were better. People often talk about new technology and they reference lighting or automation or LED. For stagecraft I think the CNC is my pick. Now it just has to trickle down from large commercial shops and the few larger Universities that have one to the rest of the theatre world….